Masschusetts governor Deval Patrick is as green-power mad as any up-and-coming Democrat, and he has set an ambitious goal for the commonwealth’s utilities: begin producing 2,000 megawatts of power from environmentally preferred sources by 2020. Patrick’s green dreams are way up in the air; on the ground, things look starkly different.
Last September in the tiny town of Princeton, Mass., the general manager of the local utility authority sent out an extraordinary little memo that is one part standard bureaucratic posterior-covering and one part cry for help, noting that a modest wind-energy project already has lost nearly $2 million — a whopping number for a community of only 3,413. For perspective, consider that those losses occurred despite all of the subsidies the utility received for its wind-energy work; when the cost of those credits is accounted for, the real losses are even higher, but of course subsidy expenses are not borne in full directly by Princeton residents. Nevertheless, customers of the Princeton Municipal Light Department now pay more than a third more for their electricity than does the average Massachusetts residential customer, adding some $774,000 to their power bills in 2011. The financial position of the PMLD has been weakened, and there is little hope for significant improvements under current conditions.